Many of us may have forgotten the horror of dastardly 26/11 attacks when the spirited city of Mumbai was held hostage to terror on 26th November 2008. Hotel Mumbai is not only a reminder of that horrific day but also relives the cataclysmic moments and the aftermath with chilling effect. Without much ado, it opens with the arrival of terrorists in Mumbai and the positions they take to unleash a blood bath.
Of course, soon the action shifts to Hotel Taj Mahal Palace, which was under siege for 68 hours, and remains there for the rest of the film. Though the makers take no responsibility for authenticity and the only real person it talks about is Chef Hemant Oberoi, yet it sure is based on true events. Whether all the other characters are a figment of imagination or drawn from part reality and part fantasy, one can’t really say. But the fear on their faces is incredibly real and frightening. Caught in the hotel where terrorists shoot indiscriminately and mercilessly, both the build-up of the fear factor and pace keep you rooted to your chair. You feel their foreboding and also share their helplessness. While you flinch at their plight, especially as body count goes up and up, but you just can’t look away. That is the power of this cinematic fare.
The film creates dramatic effect by focusing on certain key characters, introduced as VIP guests of the hotel. A Russian and more importantly a family of British Muslim heiress Zahra (Nazanin Boniadi), and her American husband David (Armie Hammer) and their infant child, are at the centre of the game of survival. It follows them and other hotel guests, keeping you on the edge and invested in their lives facing sure death. Besides, the film is essentially an ode to uncommon courage of common men. Dev Patel, playing a Sikh protagonist Arjun, a member of the hotel staff in particular, and Anupam Kher as the head chef; both are instrumental in saving many lives. Both are convincing too, Patel with just the right emotions and without a trace of melodrama.
In fact, the narrative doesn’t indulge in any unnecessary blame game either. In an operation in which Mumbai police lost many of its own, it prefers to bring to you the bravery of a few who died in the line of duty. Yes, like the hotel guests you are frustrated that the NSG Commandos arrived so late. But the fact that hundreds of lives were saved is comforting; as also the reminder that the hotel was reopened one month after the attack even though it took a long time to rebuild. The terrorists too are not unduly demonised. If their young age is referred to in a dialogue ‘yaar yeh to bachhe se hai,’ so is the fact that they were brainwashed. Till the last minute they are shown taking instructions from the mastermind over the phone. But the film is not the vantage view of terrorists rather of survivors and saviours.
The song, which plays in the climax, salutes India’s triumphant spirit. However, if you are an Indian, you walk out of theatres more stirred than proud, mentally making a wish; hope the authorities have learnt their lessons. A repeat of the same just can’t be forgiven or forgotten. But if you have the stomach for a replay on the screen, Hotel Mumbai is one of the better films on the subject. Never mind that it comes from a foreign director (Maras is an Australian) and that it has taken a long while (the film premiered last year at Toronto International Film Festival) to hit Indian screens. Its power to shake and stir stands undiminished.
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